Much as “the 60s” didn’t really start until something like 1967 “the 80s” also didn’t truly end at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, 1989. I might go so far as to argue that culturally the 90s didn’t truly start until Bill Clinton entered office in 1992. Or maybe it just feels like that to me. I was around four or five in 1992 so those first couple years of the decade are just as much ancient history to me as the 80s were. Is all that a stretch? Maybe, but it’s enough for me to justify finishing off my retrospective of 80s movies with a movie that came out in 1991: Steven Spielberg’s Hook. The thing is, Hook is one of the main movies that made me want to embark on this little project in the first place. It’s a movie with what you might call a “mixed legacy.” On one hand the critics pretty much hated it; it wasn’t panned to the point where it got multiple razzie nominations or anything but it was pretty widely viewed as a one of Steven Spielberg’s biggest stumble after a pretty long win streak. Spielberg himself also seems to have agreed with the critics, saying in an interview decades later that he “so [doesn’t] like that movie, and [that he’s] hoping someday [he’ll] see it again and perhaps like some of it.” But it made a lot of money and a lot of the kids who grew up with it still have pretty fond memories of it, or at least they have fond memories of the character of Ruffio, who I seem to hear about all the time. Between the film’s bad reputation and the fact that it’s a Peter Pan adaptation it has managed to be the one and only Steven Spielberg movie I hadn’t seen, until now anyway.
In interviews about what went wrong with Hook Spielberg has said “I didn’t have confidence in the script. I had confidence in the first act and I had confidence in the epilogue. I didn’t have confidence in the body of it… and I tried to paint over my insecurity with production value.” Indeed, that production value is clearly the most prominent and strongest aspect of the film. The film is like a swan song to practical set design before Spielberg formally embraced CGI with Jurassic Park and slowly let it take over blockbuster cinema until we reached the point where he was making movies like Ready Player One which are almost entirely computerized. However, the part of that quote that really jumps out at me is that he had the most confidence in the opening act and epilogue, which makes no sense to me because the scenes outside of Neverland are irredeemably awful. I don’t know what it is about family movies in the 90s but for whatever reason they were absolutely obsessed with guilt-tripping fathers for having jobs and not spending every waking moment with their children and boy oh boy does this movie fall into that trend. You’d think that the adults who are almost certainly “neglecting” their children to make these movies would have some perspective about how providing children with an upper-middle-class lifestyle is its own kind of support, but instead we get movie after movie about how awful it is that people are too busy to show up to school plays and little league games.
The Neverland sections are at least visually interesting but Robin Williams’ Pan character remains really annoying through most of it. This is a guy who gets transported to another realm by a literal fairy and finds himself surrounded by straight-up pirates and lost boys and yet still seems to act clueless and non-believing for the longest time. From there he goes through something of a reverse training montage in which he becomes less mature the more he “learns” because for whatever reason being childish in Neverland makes you a better sword fighter. Not that this ends up helping Ruffio much as he gets killed off with minimal fanfare by Captain Hook right before the shenanigans start right back up again. Also, why the hell is this thing named after Captain Hook? Dustin Hoffman brings him to life well enough but the film isn’t emphasizing the Captain Hook character here anymore than usual, he’s just a villain. That was just one more in a series of strange decisions that went into this movie, and between all of that it’s pretty easy to see why this thing has become a pretty big black mark on Steven Spielberg’s resume… however, it should be noted that even a bad Spielberg movie is going to be better than a lot of directors’ misfires. The sets do still look pretty cool and the movie is fairly well paced for a two and a half hour movie with no real substance. It wasn’t a movie that I actively hated watching, but by the standards it was shooting for it is a failure.
To the Scorecard:
Yeah, this is a loss for Gen X, and that means that the skeptic is going to win this one by a clear decision. The final score has been pretty clear for a while not and Gen X was never really able to regroup and get some kind of knockout.
In retrospect, I think I waited a little too long to do this. I envisioned some version of this years ago and at the time a lot of these Gen X types were sort of in control of a lot of movie sites and podcasts and I was pretty annoyed by the fact that they’d be citing movies like The Goonies as cinematic classics and really letting their nostalgia get in the way of certain conversations. At the time this disgusted me, and I do still think that’s kind of a stupid way to look at cinema. However, in the time since then there’s been a bit of a generational changing of the guards. The Gen Xers who used to run these things have either gone on to other things than talking about movies professionally or they’ve grown up and are looking at movies a little more objectively. Now it’s my fellow millennials who have taken over a lot of these online outlets and their 90s nostalgia is a lot more prevalent. I’m sure over time I’m still going to run into people who think Short Circuit is some kind of masterpiece, and I’m still going to roll my eyes at that, but I’ve come to realize I have a couple of my own nostalgic blind spots and I better understand how people can come to think like that.